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In Flanders fields...

Discussion in 'off topic' started by tones, Sep 15, 2019.

  1. tones

    tones Tones deaf

    ...well, partially. Great-uncles of Mrs. Tones and myself never came back from WW1 France, so we were keen to see the area. Mine was in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, hers in the Australian Imperial Force.

    I think that everyone should take the opportunity to visit these places - the sight of so many graves and so many young lives snuffed out is immensely sobering. (It also seems that the best way to survive was to get promoted - in what is hardly a scientific survey, the highest rank I saw was major, and only one of those). It is also immensely saddening in that we don't seem to have learned a thing, and that we are still happy to squander young people's lives. The case for sticking the leaders who want to fight wars in a locked room with a club each has never been made more strongly.

    The Commonwealth War Graves Commission does a magnificent job with these places with trimmed lawns, impeccable edging and beautiful flowers (mainly red roses).

    Highlights of a brief visit:

    Ypres and the Menin Gate - this has the names of soldiers with no known grave who perished in the various battles of Ypres, notably the third (known as Passchendaele) - a lot of names. The Last Post is blown every night at 8.00.

    Tyne Cot - the biggest of the CWGC's cemeteries, with apparently endless tombstones and three German blockhouses still there (the Cross of Remembrance, a standard feature of CWGC cemeteries is actually built on top of one).

    Newfoundland Park, Beaumont Hamel - this is the biggest bit of preserved battlefield on the Western Front, and the zigzag trenches and shell craters are still very much there after a century. Excellent guided tours by young Canadian interns from the Canadian Veterans' Affairs Department, who take very seriously their job of keeping the memory alive - ours confessed to be close to tears as he described the Newfoundlanders' attack on that dreadful 1 July 1916, as they tucked their chins into their coats as if the hail of shrapnel were a rainstorm. The Newfoundland Regiment, with much of the flower of Newfoundland youth, ceased to exist on that day - of 780 men who went over the top, only 68 made it to roll call the following day.

    Thiepval - the main monument is impressive, again with thousands of names of those who died on the Somme and who have no known grave. Guided tours by enthusiastic and knowledgeable young interns of the CWGC.
    Ulster Tower and Thiepval Wood. Of particular interest to me. Thiepval Wood was the jumping-off point for the 36th (Ulster) Division for its attack on the Schwaben Redoubt. The wood itself, amazingly not reduced to matchwood like most woods on the Western Front, was purchased by the Somme Association in Northern Ireland and the trenches are in the process of excavation by volunteers from Ireland. The Ulster Tower, a replica of one on the Clandeboye Estate near Newtownards, where the 36th trained prior to going to France, is built on top of what was the Schwaben Redoubt, and is where the custodian lives. The current custodian, a Norn Iron ex-soldier (his wife runs the shop), gave a very good tour of the wood. The wife said that old ammunition still comes to light "just like that one over there" - and sure enough, in an adjacent ploughed field, was sticking up the unmistakable shape of an artillery shell, looking somewhat the worse for wear after a century in the ground. She said that people occasionally come into the shop with hand grenades, asking, "What do I do with this?" Her response, "I don't care, but take it out of here!"

    Villers-Bretonneux - The Australian National Monument, and in some ways the most impressive of anything we'd seen. The monument itself is impressive enough, with its wall bearing the names of nearly 11,000 Diggers who have no known grave (my wife's great-uncle Fred is there), but now behind it is the outstanding Centre Sir John Monash. Monash was one of the most effective generals of WW1 (Montgomery regarded him as the best), a man who would never throw away carelessly his soldiers' lives. It was Monash's tactics that led to the breach of the Hindenburg Line, and the realisation, even by Ludendorff, that the game was up. My wife always thought that Melbourne's Monash University was named after "some old geezer". She now knows better.

    The Centre has audio-visual displays (activated by smart phone app), covering all facets of Australia at war. It is staffed by pleasant young bilingual French attendants, who were able to guide bumbling elderly technical incompetents such as ourselves through the process (I guess they get a lot of bumbling elderly technically-incompetent Ozs coming through). It's nice to see that, even after a century, the sacrifice of these young men from so far away is still appreciated locally - "n'oubliez jamais l'Australie" says an inscription on the floor on the way out.
    sean99, naimplayer, Tarzan and 5 others like this.
  2. Seeker_UK

    Seeker_UK Waiting for the streetcar..

    The memorial that I think is possibly the most powerful / poignant is the Douaumont ossuary but it seems less well known here. Perhaps it is because it is a French / German memorial or because it has the bones of the fallen on display which is somehow less neat as rows of gravestones and names on a wall.
  3. Vinny

    Vinny pfm Member

    I am 60 years old, but I find it very hard to say much at all, beyond the fact that such monuments to man's stupidity, inhumanity and greed should need nothing to speak for them.

    The church-yard just 150 yards from here has several graves associated with WW1, one grave contains 2? 3? young brothers, the monument above their grave having been raised by their parents.
  4. stevec67

    stevec67 pfm Member

    The captain s generally led the charge, as you say the higher officers were generally a few miles to the rear. There was a good film on late last night, Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman, looking at the ethics of wars prosecuted remotely by drones, often piloted on the other side of the world.
  5. ks.234

    ks.234 pfm Member

    Not WWI, WWII but I took part in a school trip to Normandy. The school was a ‘bog standard’ secondary school with its fair share of challenging kids. I was worried about the trip around the graveyards, not so much they anyone would misbehave horribly, more that they’d get a bit loud an not appreciate the feelings of other visitors. I needn’t have worried, they were all brilliant. 100 odd kids left to their own devices all totally respectful of the place, it’s purpose and atmosphere.

    As an aside, I lost count of the number of kids who came running up to me to tell me how many gravestones they’d found of victims aged 18. Horiffic, absolutely horrific.
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2019
    MikeMA, ian123running and chartz like this.
  6. tones

    tones Tones deaf

    Reminds me of the line at the end of the second episode of Band of Brothers, where, in the aftermath of destroying the guns at Brécourt Manor, Winters says to Nixon, " I lost a man today, a good man. Man! He wasn't old enough to buy a beer!"
  7. tones

    tones Tones deaf

    Of course Verdun was an exclusively French show, far to the east, an attempt by Falkenhayn to bleed the French Army to death, by attacking a target that French pride wouldn't let them give up and then blasting them with artillery. En route across the Vosges, one sees signs to La Voie Sacrée, the one supply route into Verdun from Bar-le-Duc. The Somme was a British attempt to relieve the pressure on Verdun. Unfortunately for Falkenhayn, Verdun developed a momentum all of its own, and in the end, the German casualties very nearly equalled the French ones. I think more died on the Somme, but there's not a lot in it.
    eevo1969 and Seeker_UK like this.
  8. JonR

    JonR Brainwashed Bloke

    My wife and I went on a trip to Belgium last year, which included visiting the In Flanders Fields museum, the Tyne Cot cemetery and the Menin Gate where we attended The Last Post - a very moving experience, particularly so for my wife as her great uncle is one of the many thousands of soldiers whose names are inscribed on the Menin Gate itself.
  9. RoyleBlue

    RoyleBlue pfm Member

    We have been twice, first on an organised coach tour which was excellent and secondly on a much more personalised visit. All those mentioned are extremely humbling, but am always struck by Vimy Ridge.
  10. Vinny

    Vinny pfm Member

    Man, governments, we, will never, ever learn from past stupidities

  11. chartz

    chartz pfm Member

    Those places are so charged with emotion. You have to be there to understand.

    WWI and WWII graveyards, minefields and tranchees that forever scarred the countryside, D-Day museums and beaches can only make you cry, at least shed a tear. Give you goosebumps.

    We French people owe all these good people buried here and there so much. And don't forget our German friends who suffered so much also.
  12. scolarest

    scolarest pfm Member

    I spent a good few days cycling round Flanders Fields with friends and we were all choked when we attended the daily ceremony at the Menin Gate.

    What added to that evening were the school kids attending and they got it. Not a dry eye in the place.

    People don't often realise is the buglers are all volunteers from the local fire brigade.

    For those interested in the ceremony at lot of info can be found herehttp://www.greatwar.co.uk/events/menin-gate-last-post-ceremony.htm
  13. Woodface

    Woodface pfm Member

    If you are near or in Sheffield it is worth visiting Wardsend Cemetary, it was pretty much abandoned from the mid 80s but contains many WW1 veterans, VC recipients & is incredibly moving.
  14. Vinny

    Vinny pfm Member

    American Cemetery outside of Cambridge also...……………………………… majestic, thought-provoking, horrifying, moving, enough to make anyone weep.
  15. tqineil

    tqineil pfm Member

    Been going out to Somme/Flanders with friends, 4 or five times each year since 2010 - gave me the inspiration for the Wilfred Owen film I produced a year or so ago.

    Familiar with all those places mentioned above and would agree with the OP that it’s a must do thing ... I’d add Devonshires Cemetery Mametz, Lijssenthoek, Langemark German Cemetery and Lochnagar Mine to the recommendations too... totally mind blowing
  16. Vinny

    Vinny pfm Member

    I find it impossible to imagine how people significantly younger than me see such things.

    My father was born in 1909 and my mother 12 years later.
    There were a couple of photo's of grand-parents, who I never knew, one of them in despatch-rider gear, but very little was said. In many ways the fact that my parents were glued to "All Our Yesterdays" (Sunday afternoons?????) as we grew up left the greatest impression.
    Dad said very little at all, in fact I discovered more at his funeral than I ever knew before.
    While he was alive, I knew that he was about to board a glider when the Arnhem invasion was called-off. He briefly mentioned training with firing of live rounds a few inches above their arses as they crawled under barbed-wire, and his helping his mates, he swam in the pool at the Eagle's Nest, he was with the KOSBs even though from Essex and recalled a Scots squaddie as they advanced, shouting into a foxhole "come out you filthy bastard" and when the German did not, he moved no more.
    Mum had a school friend who went down with the Hood.

    We lived in fear when the threat of being called-up as part of national service was mentioned as being good for us.
  17. tones

    tones Tones deaf

    One thing that really impressed me was the young interns from the UK and Canada at Thiepval and Newfoundland Park (and apparently also at Vimy Ridge). They were invariably history students and were not only keenly interested in the subject but also determined that these stories should never be forgotten. Our Canadian guide said that the Reception/Museum at Newfoundland Park had a substantial library and that he spent a lot of time in there, studying the available materials, which included many private diaries and letters, giving a unique individual perspective to the whole thing.
    Tarzan likes this.
  18. MikeMA

    MikeMA pfm Member

    I came across the American Cemetary quite by accident when driving around the Cambridgeshire countryside back in the 1970s. It is exactly as you say and I've never forgotten it.
  19. Vinny

    Vinny pfm Member

    Indeed, for all the cursing we direct at the US, all of those people died for something a very, very long way from their homes, it matters not how they individually died.

    No different to the sweeping masses of crosses in Belgium which I similarly stumbled upon, just nearer to home, just as moving, shocking...…………..

    Why does a simple white cross in a manicured lawn evoke such feeling, the more so when there are so very many?
    MikeMA likes this.
  20. eisenach

    eisenach European

    I've had the privilege to go to most of the places mentioned here several times over the years with school groups. We organised a French exchange to Roye in the Somme, not far from Péronne (great museum) and one of the visits was to the battle fields in the company of the history teacher from our French partner school, who was very knowledgeable and a great guide. In addition, the history department at my own school took a group each year, alternately to Normandy and the Somme/Flanders, where again the students had a great experience led by out head of history, who knew his stuff, had done the research, and tailored it all to the children's own family experiences and Herefordshire soldiers, even taking WWII veterans along to give a real life insight into what war was like.

    Many schools do this.

    It was great to be a part of it and to see the youngsters' responses.

    I went to Verdun on a cold December day, when the heights were in mist and hoar frost covered the ground, the shell holes and the remaining barbed wire. Quite eery. The museum was excellent.

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